After many years travelling and exploring Ireland, I came to the conclusion that hiking and walking are the best way to discover the real essence of this country.
My passion for hiking grew with time. I started with short walks in the Glendalough valley and around Dublin. The more I hiked, the more I wanted to discover the Irish wilderness.
My first real hike was in Wicklow mountains three years ago. My boyfriend and I took advantage of the long Halloween weekend at the end of October, to climb the highest peak in the Wicklow mountains, Lugnaquilla mountain.
Lugnaquilla mountain is 925m high and lies approx 56km south of Dublin. Even though it doesn’t seem that high compared to other European peaks, it was pretty challenging for me.
The first challenge was pronouncing its name correctly! Lugnaquilla takes his name from either the Irish words Log na Coille (the hollow of the wood) or Log na gCoileach (the hollow of the grouse).
There are few things to keep in mind when hiking in Ireland. First of all, there is the weather. It can suddenly change from sun to rain (and vice versa) and you can get wet in a few minutes. It is always good to wear a few layers of clothing and be ready to take them off or put them on. Also, it is always good to have a backpack and to put your belongings inside a plastic bag. This will keep your spare clothes and food dry in case of rain.
The right shoes are very important as well. Most of the time you will be walking among ponds or wet grounds and it is very likely that, without noticing it, you will find yourself surrounded by puddles that you need to walk through. At Lugnaquilla, I was wearing light sneakers and at the end of the hike my feet were covered in mud and completely wet. From that moment on I have always worn hiking boots when hiking in Ireland.
My final piece of advice is to bring a rain and wind proof jacket. Even if you start the hike with sunshine, the summit will most likely be covered in clouds. I remember how harsh the weather was when climbing the final couple of hundred metres to Lugnaquilla summit.
We were surrounded by thick, grey clouds and the cold wind and rain were lashing our faces.
At the beginning, the route is clearly marked but then it slowly fades away the more you climb towards the top. We started at the car park in Baravore car park (Glenmalure, Co Wicklow) and followed the concrete street until it starts ascending the mountain slope becoming smaller and less visible as you go. It was autumn and the leaves of the tree were starting to change colour. All around us was a beautiful mixture of bright green, yellow and dark orange.
The path then crossed pastures and grassy slopes where small flocks of sheep were distractedly looking at us while eating the fresh green grass. The more we climbed, the more the ground became muddy and we needed to pay attention not to step into puddles hidden among the tall slim grass. Despite my efforts, my shoes were completely wet and muddy half way through the hike.
To reach the summit of Lugnaquilla we then crossed a plateau that offered beautiful views of the valley below. Fortunately, it was sunny at that moment and the colours of the autumn were bright and vivid against the blue sky.
After crossing the plateau and starting to climb the final slope toward the summit, the weather quickly changed and for the last stretch we were surrounded by thick grey clouds which made it hard to find our way up. Thankfully, there were small piles made of rocks along the way that marked the path toward the top.
With surprise, we realized that Lugnaquilla summit is flat and it is marked only by a small oval structure made of rocks. Here, we finally rested and ate our sandwiches trying to find some protection from the rain and wind.
For the whole hike we didn’t meet anyone else. Only at the summit did we have a quick encounter with another hiker who had run all the way up the mountain and was going to run all the way down too! He appeared from the clouds like a ghost and after a brief chat he waved goodbye and quickly disappeared again.
At this stage, I could see only a few metres in from of me and I was not sure which direction to take to start our descent. Thankfully my boyfriend is really good at finding his way and after walking for a few hundred metres, we found the little piles of rocks and managed our way out of the rainclouds.
Even if I was completely wet and pretty cold, I really enjoyed my first hike. It is not only the rewarding feeling of realising ‘Yes I made it!’ (despite the weather!) – but also having seen with my own eyes how powerful and unpredictable nature can be.
This hike was as enjoyable as it was challenging and I hope I have given you a good idea for a long weekend or holiday in Ireland!
Emanuela (Administrator, Central School of English)
Simon is the Director of Studies at the Central School of English in Dublin